Each year, some 50 or so bakers from around the world visit Lowe at his Apiece bakery in Launceston, Tasmania, to study his sourdough-baking techniques. Lowe—who has read extensively in plant breeding, microbiology, milling science, and oven thermodynamics, and taught himself basic chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology, to better understand the microbiome of his favorite food—posts his exacting recipes in a public Dropbox file for all to share.
That week in July, Lowe had read a newly published microbiology paper that showed, more than 40 years after scientists identified L. sanfranciscensis in sourdough, that the bacteria live inside insects that inhabit wheat fields and grain storehouses. It makes sense that bacteria that can thrive in the fermenting plant material "would be something that's part of the ecology of the grain," Lowe says. They must all share regional origins and thrive in a temperate range—between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Although as a nonscientist Lowe had no way to prove it, his studies and his life's work had led him to reason that the insects' guts must be perfect vectors for the necessary microorganisms of fermentation.